Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Singapore: "First World infrastructure, Third World politics"

Many Cambodians I meet tell me that Singapore is the "best country in Southeast Asia" (followed by Malaysia, Brunei, Philippines...one motodop told me). A Singaporean woman asked me why Cambodians admire Singapore: is it our economy, our politics, our education, our lifestyle? It all boils down to one thing: our money. To be honest, most people know little about Singapore, especially it's politics. They simply admire Singapore because it is rich.

21st May marks the 22th anniversary of what has come to be known "The Marxist Conspiracy". This time 22 years ago, 22 young Roman Catholic church and social activists and professionals detained, without trial, under the internal security law, accused of being members of a dangerous Marxist conspiracy bent on subverting the PAP-ruled government by force, and replacing it with a Marxist state.

sgblogs.com has details: The detainees included lawyer Miss Tang Fong Har who was released 85 days later, having had spend most of her time in solitary confinement. In April of 1988, along with eight others, she issued a joint statement alleging unjustified arrests, ill-treatment, forced TV confession and a recantation of their earlier signed confession. Immediately, the government ordered their re-arrests. Tang escaped re-arrest as she was overseas at that time, and has remained in exile ever since.

Here is an excerpt of an Amnesty International report on the detentions in Singapore:
"The interrogation room was 16 ft. by 12 ft.. It was soundproof, and two teams of interrogators worked in twelve hour shifts, round the clock for the first three days. The worst treatment was during these first three days. While I was being questioned and shouted at, I was made to stand continuously for 32 hours in the cold air-conditioned room. My first non-stop interrogation lasted 64 hours. I received my first slap across the face three minutes into this interrogation. It was during the first 36 hours that I received all the slaps and hits. I would have received about 50 hand slaps across my face, chest, stomach and back.

According to others, they slapped man or woman alike if they did not get a satisfactory account. The slaps brought on uncontrollable coughing and head spun. I kept telling myself all the time that I was not a communist. They threatened to slap me more if I did not stop lying. I persisted and was slapped some more. It was incredible. My head was groggy and they threatened to pour cold water on me. But I gave the same answers to the same unreasonable questions. Water was thrown on me and I shivered uncontrollably. My jaws were chattering and I collapse to the floor."
theonlinecitizen.com interviewed another detainee, Mr Tan Tee Seng, who was then was 28 years old and a former vice-president of the Singapore Polytechnic Students’ Union (SPSU):

After the 1984 elections, Mr Tan and his friends stayed on to help the [opposition] Workers' Party with its party newspaper, The Hammer. He joined the de facto editorial committee, writing many of its articles and changing the design of its masthead. After about a year, circulation of the Hammer rose from about 10,000 copies to over 25,000 copies. This, Mr Tan assessed, was probably one of the developments that concerned the PAP government, led by then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
Despite what he went through at the hands of the ISD [internal security department], Mr Tan harbours no anger or bitterness against the authorities. He saw it as a political reality in Singapore — the cost of participating in political and social activism. Singapore, he said, has First World infrastructure, with Third World politics.

An interesting observation by a poster to the sgblogs story noted at the same time, in May and June 1987, there were massive demonstrations for democracy in South Korea, which eventually forced dictator Chun Doo Hwan out of power. The two most important leaders of the South Korean democracy movement, Kim Dae Jung and Kim Young Sam, are a Catholic and a Presbyterian elder respectively.

You can read more on wikipedia.

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